API stands for Application Programming Interface, which is an essential component on your operating system, applications, and web apps, to standardize and facilitate user experience. But what is an API exactly?
An Introduction to APIs
Think of it as simple as accessing your location, and imagine if the operating system doesn’t have an API that enables other applications to do so. In that case, the app developers must code the GPS location program from scratch. What if there are different models for other devices? Their instructions may be different. Without a way to say, “I want to know where the computer is” or any other question, programming efficiency will be significantly hampered, and different algorithms might return different values, thus making some of them unreliable.
An API is basically a set of instructions that is an interface for different software to communicate with one another. Specifically, the API is at the receiving end of the communication, meaning that an app that requests something from the operating system will use the API from the OS, not from the app itself.
Other Uses of APIs
Other than making things simpler for developers, APIs are also useful on other occasions. Sometimes, apps don’t want to collect data on their algorithms and/or sensors. For instance, companies don’t build worldwide weather sensors ONLY to provide data to a weather app unless the company’s purpose is associated with weather. Instead, they use APIs from third-party companies that possess raw data and integrate those in the app (through the API).
Moreover, have you ever logged in to a website using a third-party service? When you visit the associated website, the first thing it does is to see if the user is logged in to any service that the website supports. If so, it will log you in directly. If not, it will give the option for you to log in.
Moreover, APIs can be used to embed resources. Have you seen a camera interface that’s so similar with your built-in camera app? That’s the usage of an API, and its purpose is to embed the built-in camera interface into an app so that users can take photos conveniently without leaving the app.
If your website or app uses an API, you have to secure them and prevent them from being hacked. If you don’t, attackers can easily hack the API to cause data breaches. Here are some tips to protect your APIs.
Firstly, use encryption. This prevents any information, including authentication and API credentials, from being exposed and stolen by hackers.
Secondly, you must store API keys securely. Remove the API key before sharing the source code, and always place them on the server-side if possible. Moreover, you should regenerate the keys for your projects regularly.
If your website or app provides other authentication methods (like login credentials and/or OAuth), use them. That way, you ensure that users are using your API appropriately, not breaking into your servers or connections.
Last but not least, as for developing any other applications, try to hack yourself. This will reveal the software’s weaknesses and give your team a chance to improve before the real bad people get in.
In this article, we’ve talked about APIs, which are essential to our user experience, and most importantly, the convenience to embed quality algorithms without so hard to develop one. If you want to learn more, you can visit the websites in the references below. Moreover, if we missed critical points, please leave that in the comments below so that we can enhance this article.
References and Credits
- (n.d.). What is an API? (Application Programming Interface). Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://www.mulesoft.com/resources/api/what-is-an-api
- Simply Explained. (2019, November 13). What Are APIs? – Simply Explained. Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVvTv9Hy91Q
- Mat Pincovai. (2020, July 17). 5 best practices for secure API key storage. Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://developers.amadeus.com/blog/best-practices-api-key-storage
- (2020, December 16). API Security: 6 Important Best Practices. Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://www.cmswire.com/information-management/api-security-6-important-best-practices/